What Week Do Braxton-Hicks Start
Braxton-Hicks contractions typically start after week 20 of pregnancy, during the second and third trimesters

Braxton-Hicks contractions can occur at any time during your pregnancy but are most common after week 20, during the second and third trimesters. 

Some pregnant people experience them during the entire third trimester, whereas others only have them in the last month of pregnancy or as the due date approaches.

What causes Braxton-Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions prepare the womb for childbirth. They tone the uterine muscles to prepare for birth and boost blood flow to the placenta. They are common, do not follow a regular pattern, and tend to go away gradually. 

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Increased activity by you or your baby
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Dehydration
  • Having a full bladder
  • Stress
  • Inadequate sleep

What do Braxton-Hicks contractions feel like?

Also called false labor pains, Braxton-Hicks contractions often manifest as a tightening sensation in the abdomen. They can be uncomfortable without being painful. You may feel the uterus hardening if you place your hands on your abdomen during the contractions. Many compare them to premenstrual pain or cramps.

According to the American Association of Pregnancy, Braxton-Hicks contractions have the following characteristics:

  • Infrequent (occurring a few times a day, not more than 1-2 times an hour)
  • Irregular intensity
  • Nonrhythmic
  • More uncomfortable than painful (although it can be painful for some)
  • Do not increase in intensity or frequency
  • Taper on and off 
  • May go away with a change in position, a warm bath, or a short walk
  • Not associated with thinning and opening of the cervix

How can you tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks and real labor contractions?

Timing

Braxton-Hicks contractions do not usually follow a pattern, while true labor contractions do. Keep track of your contractions for an hour and measure the time between the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. If your contractions occur every 5-10 minutes, you should contact your doctor.

Duration 

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be brief or lengthy, weak or intense, and feel like your abdomen is clenching into a hard ball. Real labor contractions usually last at least 30 seconds at first, then get longer and more intense with each subsequent contraction.

Control

Braxton-Hicks contractions often stop or become less painful when you shift from sitting to standing or standing to lying down. If it is labor, the contractions will continue regardless of what you do.

Location

False labor is most typically indicated by painful contractions solely at the front of the abdomen. True labor pain often begins in the back and lower abdomen and is associated with pressure in the pelvic region.

If you are unsure whether you are in actual labor or not, contact your doctor.

QUESTION

The first sign of pregnancy is most often: See Answer

Does Braxton-Hicks contractions mean the baby is coming soon?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are not a sign that labor is approaching. If your contractions become more intense, frequent, and painful, however, contact your doctor right away.

Signs of labor pain include the following:

  • Engagement: You may notice during the final few weeks that your baby has dropped down lower in the abdomen. Most first-time pregnant people observe this 2 weeks before giving birth. However, dropping can happen as early as 4 weeks before the due date. In the case of a second pregnancy, the baby does not drop until the labor begins. This could be because the pelvic muscles are already stretched from the first pregnancy. The baby's head settling into the pelvis is called “lightening” or “engagement.”
  • Low back pain: Expect some aches or pains in your lower back and pelvis because your uterine and pelvic ligaments are stretched even more as the baby grows heavier and settles lower down.
  • Frequent urination: Because the baby's head (or another presenting part) is now closer to your bladder, you may need to use the restroom more frequently. While frequent trips to the bathroom are inconvenient, they may indicate that labor is near.
  • Diarrhea: Pregnancy hormones that affect the intestines cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps and loose, frequent bowel movements. You may experience nausea as a result of the same hormones.
  • Increased vaginal discharge: When labor approaches, vaginal discharge may be increased. These pre-labor indications are distinct from the other types of vaginal discharge.
  • Bloody vaginal discharge: The mucus plug that had previously sealed the cervix may “uncork” when the baby's head descends into the pelvic cavity and pre-labor contractions thin the cervix. Some experience the occasional passage of a clear mucus plug, whereas others only experience an increase in the amount of blood-tinged vaginal discharge. Because your cervix thins, some of the tiny blood vessels rupture, resulting in pink to brownish-red-tinged blood mucus. Report this to your doctor right away if your discharge contains more blood than mucus. Labor is most likely to start within 3 days to 1-2 weeks of noticing blood in the mucus.
  • Water breaking: Water breaking does not happen to most people until they are well into labor. If your water breaks before your labor has begun, you should anticipate that your labor will begin intensely in the next few minutes or hours or at the very least the following day.

How can I manage Braxton-Hicks contractions?

There is no proven approach to managing Braxton-Hicks that works for everyone. However, you can try the following home remedies:

  • Changing positions: If you have been standing, lie down; if you have been sitting or lying down, take a walk. Changing positions could be effective.
  • Bathing: Take warm baths to help relieve the contractions and associated discomfort.
  • Proper hydration: Sometimes contractions are the result of dehydration. Staying hydrated can help minimize uncomfortable symptoms.

If you feel that something is not right with your pregnancy, contact your doctor. If you experience painful contractions before your due date, especially before your third trimester, seek emergency care because it could be a sign of pregnancy complications or preterm birth.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Braxton Hicks Contractions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470546/#:

Braxton Hicks Contractions. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/labor-and-birth/braxton-hicks/

Braxton Hicks. https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/true-false-labor

False alarm: Braxton Hicks contractions vs. true labor. https://utswmed.org/medblog/braxton-hicks-contractions/